Social media to blame for vaccine ‘misinformation’

A report has revealed the extent to which social media is to blame for spreading misinformation about vaccinations.

Ian Snug
24 January 2019
Vaccine

Over a quarter of people incorrectly believe you can have too many vaccinations.

A report, published today by The Royal Society of Public Health, has revealed the extent to which social media is to blame for spreading misinformation about vaccinations.

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The Moving the Needle report shows that while attitudes to vaccines in general were largely positive, social media was found to fuel misinformation about the potential side effects of vaccines and their links to conditions such as autism.

Highlighting a low understanding of key concepts of vaccination, the report reveals that over a quarter of people incorrectly believe you can have too many vaccinations with two in five parents saying they are regularly exposed to negative or incorrect messages about vaccines on social media.

Other barriers to vaccination discovered include; the timing, availability and location of appointments.

‘Fake news’.

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive, RSPH said: “Vaccinations are one of the most powerful tools we have for protecting and improving the public’s health, saving millions of lives every year across the globe. The value of vaccinations throughout life should not be underestimated. 

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In the UK, we are fortunate to have a fantastic, world-leading vaccination programme, with excellent levels of coverage. However, we should never be complacent: history has taught us that fear and misinformation about vaccines can cause substantial damage to even the strongest vaccination programmes. 

With the rise of social media, we must guard against the spread of ‘fake news’ about vaccinations. We have found worrying levels of exposure to negative messages about vaccinations on social media, and the spread of misinformation – if it impacts uptake of vaccines – could severely damage the public’s health. 

It is 21 years since Andrew Wakefield published his infamous and now widely discredited paper on an alleged link between the MMR vaccine and autism, and Europe is still living with the consequences – as we have seen with the resurgence in measles rates in recent years. In the 21st Century it would be unacceptable to allow vaccine-preventable diseases to make a comeback, and it is vital we do all we can to ensure the UK maintains its status as a global leader in vaccination.”

RSPH is calling for a multi-pronged approach to improving and maintaining uptake of vaccinations in the UK which includes tackling ‘fake news’.

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Trust in healthcare professionals.

The report also revealed that trust in healthcare professionals remains high, with doctors and nurses consistently highly valued as a source of information about vaccines

Helen Donovan, Professional Lead for Public Health at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Challenging misinformation is vital to reverse the decline in vaccination uptake and ensure people recognise the protection it offers. It’s reassuring that trust in nurses as a source of reliable information on vaccines remains high, and the RCN’s own myth-busting Beat the Flu campaign has reached more than 1.5 million people since it launched in October last year. But respected authorities need to do more to tackle misleading and dangerous narratives that put all of us at risk.”

“In 2017 Britain was declared free of endemic measles, with just 259 lab confirmed cases. But last year saw 913 confirmed cases of this potentially fatal yet entirely preventable disease – a three-fold increase. This has been exacerbated by myths propagated largely online.

“Similarly, flu vaccination coverage over the 2017/2018 season was the lowest it has been since 2011, and last year saw a serious flu outbreak. This year the rates are lower, but still a cause for concern.”

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